December 27, 1995
by Yolanda Reynolds
Soon it will be a new year. Thoughts linger over the past year and all that has happened. There are many events that stand out-like the bombing in Oklahoma. In California, there was a trial that caught the attention of the international media and left the nation divided over the wisdom of the jury’s decision.
In distant lands there have been some horrendous political and social upheavals as a consequence of a search for change or because of long standing animosities. After years of bloody warfare, in Bosnia, the three major warring factions have agreed to a truce. Investigations are ongoing of the assassination of Premier Yitzhak Rabin in Israel.
Closer to home, in Mexico, its citizens daily receive new information revealing that too many government officials have engaged in questionable activities to detriment of their country.
Of the situation in Mexico, Bill and Patty Co|eman, National Catholic Reporter writers, quote Archbishop Sergio Obeso Rivera, the chairman of a bishops’ November conference as slating “Mexico is at a bad moment in its history, people’s inability to trust the government, the drug-trafﬁcking and the violence have caused an insecurity and anguish that touches everyone.” The Archbishop adds, “The failed (economic) experiments appear disastrous. Indeed, almost catastrophic.”
It was primarily these sentiments that had brought the “Zapatistas” in Chiapas to stage an armed takeover of government offices in San Cristobal de Las Casas in January of 1994. To date, not much has been resolved, the economic situation continues to decline. There are reports of increased crime, including that often perpetrated at the hands of corrupt officers.
The Zapatistas’ dramatic action focused the nation’s and the world’s attention to the tenuous, political, economic and moral status of a country of almost 94 million people. Their plea for attention to the problems, as the EZLN defﬁned them, caught the attention of many in Mexico, including the intellectual community.
The Zapatistas (EZLN – Zapatistas Army of National Liberation) are a group named for Emiliano Zapata, the Mexican peasant leader murdered in 1917. He is considered to be a hero and martyr because he sought and fought for the rights of the poor, mostly indigenous and landless communities of southern Mexico in the great revolution of 1910.
Of the Zapatista effort to bring “democracy, liberty and justice to Mexico; Sub-Commandante Marcos in one of his speeches, said. “We are an army of dreamers; for that we are invincible. How can’t we win with that dream that stirs within us? We can’t lose. Better said – we don’t deserve to lose.”
That feeling is shared by many. The “pueblo,” as Mexicans describe themselves, do have a hope for a better future. Talks are ongoing with the Zapatistas. President Zedillo does seem to be searching for better ways. Unfortunately, there is very little money in the Mexican treasury so there can be no mistakes.
The government is making every effort to repay the huge World Bank loans and the recent $50 million loan from the United States. The people of Mexico have seen the value of their currency decrease 50% in just one short year. It is difficult to ask them to make more sacriﬁces.
The Zapatistas took up arms because. “they had exhausted all legal means of dissent,” which, they say, was “met with assassinations, persecutions, and jailing.” They also saw the North American Free Trade Agreement “as the end of all land rights and consequently the end of the way of life of millions of itinerant farmers.”
Before that, they say, “the profound marginalization and racism was already killing indigenous people at an astronomical rate.”
The Zapatistas became the most vocal and dramatic voice to “demand an end to the authoritarian and corrupt party dictatorship in Mexico.” A dictatorship that critics say “is the oldest… in the 20th century.” The PRI party has essentially controlled the government. from national to local levels, since 1929.
The new president of Mexico, Ernesto Zedillo, says that he intends to make government leadership respect all of the people of Mexico. His work is made very difficult because of the myriad of problems facing Mexico.
One of the most vexing and problematic is how best to end the current economic “crisis” in in Mexico. The people, all of the people in Mexico, are facing very difficult economic times. Economists describe the current status as a major “depression.”
According to published reports from Mexico, “food prices for poor families rose 162% during the first 10 months of 1995. The minimum wage increased only 7 percent. Unemployment and underemployment, meanwhile, affect 75% of the work force.”
Mexicans have seen the value of the peso decline from 3 pesos to the U.S. dollar to 8.5 pesos to the dollar. According to reports of recent visitors to Mexico, there are rumors that the peso is expected to dip to a low of 11 pesos to the dollar early next year.
Besides, or because of the political corruption, many thoughtful spokespersons in Mexico, including the Zapatistas, have criticized the government’s “neo-liberal” economic policies. Obviously, that criticism concerns President Zedillo. Mexican President Zedillo recently asked the country’s bishops for alternatives to the government’s current economic model.
Zedillo is reported to have said, “It is easy to make critical judgments,” but pleaded for “something more positive.” He is reported to have said to the bishops, “What can you suggest in the place of the neo-liberal model?” “If anyone can suggest an alternative to help us correct this present situation, I won’t hesitate to use it.”
The current model is that promoted by the former President, Carlos Salinas dc Gortari. He used the tremendous power of the Government to promote this new model as a means of taking Mexico out of the “developing third world nation status.” In the United States, Salinas was portrayed as a “modern” President. He enjoyed tremendous prestige and was even endorsed by this government’s leaders for the position of the World Trade Organization.
Wall street was so impressed with Salinas that upon retirement from the Presidency, he was appointed a Director by Dow Jones, a powerful securities and trade organization headquartered in New York.
According to University student Olga Morales of San Jose who recently returned from months of study in Mexico City, she found that Mexican people felt betrayed once again and were very, very angry.
Instead of the bright future that Salinas and his Cabinet promised, most Mexicans face economic destruction. Many have lost their jobs or are underemployed. Basic goods, fuel, and electricity have increased by almost 30%. Interest on loans gone to 50%.
According to the writers Coleman, Felipe Rizmende Esquivel, bishop of Tapachula, Chiapas, told President Zedillo, “We are not prisoners of the international financial institution. We are free and must creatively seek other economic structures. More efficient less unjust and less inhumane.”
According to such observers of Mexico and Latin American affairs as author Tom Barry, “the crisis that confronts Mexico (is) evidence of the neoliberal and free trade policy’s inability to foster broad economic development. He argues that such strategies have resulted in reduced food security, environmental destruction, increased rural-urban polarization, depopulation of peasant communities, and social and political instability.”
Barry is the author of a newly published book entitled, “Zapata’s Revenge: Free Trade and the Farm Crisis in Mexico.”
People are talking, the press is less controlled, and elections have become more transparent and, as important, the President is obviously listening. There are signs in Mexico that offer hope for an improved economic and political reality for the New Year.
The National Commission For Democracy in Mexico U.S.A. has produced a CD album entitled, “Somos Indios,” which contains regional, social, and contemporary songs donated by 17 Mexican artists as “contribution to the current Zapatista struggle.”
The CD is being sold for $15, plus $2 for shipping and handling. To order, write the National Commission for Democracy in Mexico U.S.A. at 501 N. Cotton Ste. A-103, El Paso, Texas 79902. Their telephone number is (915) 532-8382. © La Oferta Newspaper.